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L.A. Unified bond oversight panel wants iPad critic reappointed

Los Angeles Board of EducationApple iPadLos Angeles Unified School District
L.A. Unified bond oversight panel says its independence is being threatened
L.A. Unified school board member Galatzan defends her move to oust a critic of the iPad program

The committee that oversees school bond spending in Los Angeles has called for the reinstatement of iPad project critic Stuart Magruder.

Magruder surrendered his seat last week after the L.A. Board of Education refused to reappoint him to a second two-year term.

The committee met Thursday -- without Magruder -- and unanimously approved a letter objecting to his exclusion.

“Independence of the Bond Oversight Committee is vital to its proper function," the letter said. "Disagreement with the comments, questions, and votes of a duly appointed member of the BOC is not a valid justification for the Board to refuse to reappoint that member.”

Magruder remains the nominee of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, one of several groups allowed to select a member for the panel. The school board, which can select two parent members, is required to approve the choice of each outside group. But there is disagreement over whether it has the authority to reject a nominee.

The 15-member oversight body reviews the spending of money from voter-approved school bonds. Its votes are not binding on the Board of Education. L.A. Unified plans to spend more than $1 billion in bond funds to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator.

Magruder's reappointment was blocked at the urging of school board member Tamar Galatzan, who said he overstepped the proper role of a committee member by intruding into instructional decisions.

She added that she did not object to criticism from Magruder or anyone else.

“I know a couple of members who object to purchasing technology,” Galatzan said. “I will renominate them. I respect that position completely.”

Galatzan said that for several years she has urged the panel to provide more oversight on construction projects. The panel, she said, was too willing to rubberstamp unnecessary or overly expensive projects, especially when there was political pressure to do so.

On the iPad and other technology purchases, however, she said members of the panel, especially Magruder, had gone to the other extreme. She said they were attempting, improperly, to set district policy. Galatzan faulted Magruder and others for second-guessing technology purchases that educators at schools wanted to make.

Galatzan also stood by her criticism of Magruder for allegedly insisting on architecture services as a condition for every project that he would approve.

Magruder has denied that allegation, and other members of the panel defended his integrity. He had been selected for the group's smaller executive committee.

On Thursday, committee counsel Joseph Buchman said that the school board agreed in 2002 not to interfere with nominees from outside groups. Updates to that deal have not changed those provisions, he said.

Galatzan noted that she wasn’t on the board in 2002 so she could not speak to the original intent of the pact. She insists that the wording does not prevent the school board from turning down a nominee. District general counsel David Holmquist has supported her position.

Panel member Quynh Nguyen said that she’s had some strong disagreements with Magruder, but “my respect [for him] has done nothing but grow.” 

She added: “In the long run it is not in [the board’s] best interests to meddle in the appointments…if we ever want to pass school bonds again.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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